Saturday, August 6, 2016

Why I love what I do

Long time readers of Let the Children Play will be familiar with the big themes in my professional life:  Progressive education, loose parts for play, outdoor play - preferably in natural settings, creating environments for play and more recently respectful education and care for infants, inspired by Magda Gerber's educaring (r) approach.

When something clicks with me, I get my teeth stuck in and I don't let go!  This is one of those very exciting aspects of early childhood education.  There is always a world of possibility open in front of you to delve into, try on for size and see if it is the right fit for you, and for the children and families you work with.

I've been wondering exactly what it is about these overarching big ideas that have hooked me, and haven't let me go.  What is it that continues to excite me, inspire me and wish to the gods that I had my own centre where I could put everything that swims around in my head into practice?

What is it about progressive education, uninterrupted play, loose parts and the freedom, time and space to use them and the educaring approach that just seem to make so much sense to me that it is virtually a no-brainer?

I think it comes down to a basic belief that children are, quite simply, more amazing than we give them credit for.  Children come into this world as phenomenal learners, intrepid explorers and seekers of knowledge and understanding.

All of the big ideas in early childhood education that I hold dear - as diverse as they are - take children seriously.  This is what clicks.

For example:

Progressive education and the educaring approach active participants both advocate for a "doing with" rather than a "doing to" approach.  They encourage us to see children - no matter how young - as active participants in learning.

Loose parts invite children to make their own play choices and play spaces without adult agenda and to become scientists, creators, engineers, collaborators that they are.  

Playing outdoors, in natural spaces, opens up a world of possibility and opportunity for children that simply aren't available indoors, and gives them the opportunity to develop connections to their natural world.

The learning environment as the third teacher recognises the power that environments have to either hinder or support children's engagement and learning.  It goes beyond the physical arrangement of space, and encourages us to truly understand the children using the space to create places, relationships and routines that respect children as the amazing learners that they are.

If you hold this belief at the heart of your practice, then your goal becomes not to impart your own knowledge or agendas onto children, but to create a physical and emotional environment where children can do what they do naturally, and best.

Letting go of the need to control, or to "teach" doesn't mean that there is no longer a place for the educator.  Far from it. 

All of these big ideas place teachers in the role of facilitator, keen observer, life long learner and collaborator who sets the scene for play and learning to flourish.  You need to be flexible, intuitive, knowledgeable, empathetic, curious, creative, interested, prepared, connected and to think quickly on your feet.  

All of these big ideas invite us to watch in awe and wonder as children's learning unfolds, and to share the joy and excitement of the children.  

Children really are phenomenal learners.  When we trust in that, amazing things happen.  Being able to witness it, and to share in it - this is what I love.  


  1. Taking children seriously is to respect them as equals. Children are born natural scientists—born to learn! Thanks for your inspiration!

  2. Kia ora,
    How wonderful to read your inspiring reflection, ae i agree wholeheartedly with your beliefs. However unlike you I need to learn to articulate these better. thank you I have printed this out for my teacher registration folder.nga mihi karen

  3. Great read Jenny. You are spot on.

  4. Thank you so very much for this. Every word resonates with me! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you wrote.

  5. It takes a real talent to facilitate play effectively. There is a delicate balance between observing carefully, supporting, helping children move to the next level and yet not controlling or getting involved to the point where the play no longer belongs to the children.